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Councilman sees room for communication with CRA

By Staff | Mar 20, 2012

A few weeks after calling for the disbandment of the Community Redevelopment Agency board as it currently exists, Cape Coral Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz may have softened his stance a little bit.

During the city council workshop Monday at city hall, Leetz said that his recent communication with CRA Chairman Richard Grier has produced enough positive results for him to consider dropping his request to repeal the current CRA board and provide the city council be the CRA.

That didn’t mean Leetz is sure the CRA has much of a function, especially with concerns about its productivity and the 2009 annexation of land around a former golf course that is in Leetz’s jurisdiction.

Grier appeared in front of council and made an appeal that the CRA is a necessary component for Cape Coral to grow in a positive manner, beyond the constraints of what many view as downtown.

However, Grier conceded the Cape isn’t built the same way many older cities were built, with a dedicated downtown where people can walk to shops and schools.

“Cape Coral was built in 1957 and it’s not built like a conventional city. There’s no central city,” Grier said. “We need to call us the Cape Coral Transformation District. We haven’t seen the growth because we don’t have the traditional city.”

Leetz wasn’t satisfied. He admonished Grier over what happened to the $14.7 million dollars the CRA collected in TIF over two decades and the lack of visible growth, which Grier conceeded.

“Has this been a productive use of taxpayer dollars? There has been some loss of money,” Leetz said.

Leetz also was concerned about Area 12, in and around the old Golf Club, which the CRA annexed in 2009 in Leetz’ District 4.

“In 2009 Area 12 had a taxable base of $340 million. In 2011, it was $298 million,” Leetz said. “In two-and-a-half years, no tax funding, no TIF. It will be five years before we see some appreciation.”

TIF, or tax increment financing, is the difference between the base tax valuation set when properties become part of a Community Redevelopment Agency. Increases in tax funding above the base remain in the CRA district and may only be used for projects benefiting the district.

Councilman Kevin McGrail agreed with Leetz’s Area 12 assertion.

“I can’t think of any other area that needs transformation more. It’s turning into wild Florida,” McGrail said.

Not all the council members took Leetz’ side. As for taking over the CRA, Councilmember Marty McClain had simple advice; read the by-laws, holding up a thick, three-ring binder.

“No, thanks,” McGrail said, before absolving the new CRA leadership of past deeds and praising it for all the good it’s done recently.

“It’s a new day in Cape Coral. All the feedback I get is you’ve been linked to the past,” McGrail said. “You got the underground wires, the beach at Four Freedoms Park and Cape Coral Parkway repaving. Everything you’ve done has come before council.”

“In the past two years, the CRA has stepped it up. It pulled off the paving, pushed for utilities. The pain has been Area 12,” McClain said. “The CRA can extend money we can’t, spending it where it needs to be done.”

Leetz was happy with the continuing dialogue and invited further talks with the CRA later this week, and invited the press to ask it to contact the council members with their ideas.

He also left open the possibility of continuing his ordinance or withdrawing it entirely.

“We are happy we agreed to do this. Through communication we can do anything we want to do,” Grier said. “The work we do is important. I believe we are on the cusp of great things.”

Leetz, however, had the parting shot.

“I’ve been hearing the same thing since I moved here in 1996,” Leetz said.